Hills schools are going for a second campus in the plains, learning lessons from the 104-day statehood agitation that rocked Darjeeling last year. Though this marks a paradigm shift in tradition, the “alternative” arrangement will ensure that students are not caught in the vortex of a sudden shutdown.
Himali Boarding School in Kurseong was the first mover when it started a new campus in Siliguri recently; classes for the current academic session have just started.
The Hills campus continues as it is, but in the event of an untoward strike call, the school will have its own infrastructure to bring down and teach the boarders from the Hills, a senior school official said. The seats are filled to capacity on the second campus already, and there’s a long queue.
If things go according to plan, Rockvale Academy in Kalimpong, and St Anthony’s and Bethany in Kurseong will also start their second campus in Siliguri or Dooars soon. Rockvale Academy is looking for at least 5 bighas of land to build a spacious residential campus, large enough to include all the extra-curricular facilities the school is known for.
During the 2017 strike, when all missionary and private schools started “teaching-learning camps” in Siliguri, especially for boardyear students, these four private schools had decided to jointly develop an alternative infrastructure in the plains. While all church-run schools have sister schools/facilities running in Siliguri, that was not the case with private schools.
After the strike ended, Himali Boarding School didn’t waste any time and went ahead with its second campus.
“The plains have great infrastructure, but the education that we provide in our residential schools follows a tried-and-tested formula of 150 years typical to the Darjeeling Hills. We want even Siliguri to experience it,” said Robi Subbah, the chairman of Himali Boarding. “Our second campus will attract a new clientele and also create alternative arrangements for Hills students in case of an emergency,” he added.
Strike hardships faced by school, students triggered expansion plan
Rockvale Academy chief Captain P M Pradhan said Hills schools looking for land for a second campus should not crowd around Siliguri as the place is saturated and land is not easily available. “Instead, we should look at Dooars, which is still verdant with lot of land. Since ours will be a residential campus, the location should not matter much to kids,” he said.
The plan to develop a joint campus in the plains still stands, Pradhan added.
The second campus plan was not just triggered by the hardships that teachers and the school administrators faced during the strike, but also because both missionary and private schools saw a large number of withdrawals by parents, who felt their kids were unsafe. The withdrawals happened mostly in junior classes because parents of board examinees were left with no choice. Almost every Hills school brought boarders down to Siliguri, hired premises and coached them so that they could take the board exams.
Prestigious church-run schools like St Paul’s and St Joseph’s School, too, held camps in Siliguri during the strike. Since churches have their own institutions in the plains, the boarders were accommodated there and they didn’t need to hire premises. “We have facilities in Matigara where we held our classes. Since we have an alternative infrastructure to help us, we don’t need to start second campus in the plains unlike private schools,” said Fr Kinley, who just retired as rector of Darjeeling Jesuit schools.
Source: Times of India